NHL Wins and Sins: John Tavares as a heel and potential league rule changes at NHL GM Meetings
What's right and wrong in the NHL this week
It's time for our weekly installment highlighting what's right and what's wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there's also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize.
With that in mind, let's hash it out together ... right here ... every single Wednesday.
What's right: John Tavares as a Long Island heel
Think whatever you may about John Tavares and his departure from Long Island last summer but there's no questioning the entertainment value that his return brought this week. I think most people expected Tavares to get a heavy amount of boos and jeers in his first game back on the island since joining the Maple Leafs, but .
They modified and burned old Tavares gear; they threw rubber snakes on the ice; they rained thunderous boos down on him at any given opportunity -- even during his tribute video, which featured a bunch of footage from his work with the community. It was ruthless and merciless and amazing.
But the best part of the spectacle was, by far, the chants that Isles fans brought to the party. With the Islanders up big by the third period, the hometown fans mocked Tavares and the now-infamous childhood nap time photo that he tweeted after signing with the Leafs. The "it's your bedtime" and "where's your jammies?" chants were really icing on the cake for an animosity-fueled night.
I'm someone who feels that Tavares didn't owe the Islanders anything. He was one of the best players in franchise history for nine years, he carried himself like a professional and was one of the few bright lights in a pretty messy organization. He was well within his right to leave, especially given their failures in assembling a winner around him during his tenure. I certainly can't blame the guy for wanting to play for his hometown team and put himself in a great position to contend for a Stanley Cup for years to come.
But I'm also someone who feels that the Islanders fans are well within their right ignore all those good things he did for the team and community in favor of booing the hell out of him. I can't blame them either. You can certainly make the argument that Tavares strung them along a bit and then left the team in a tough spot following his departure. There's legitimate reason to feel jilted and bitter about that, even with the success that the Islanders have had this season.
At the end of the day, as someone who believes that sports are at their best when emotions are heightened and there's hate involved, this was amazing for the NHL. More than anything else, I want sports to be entertaining, and heels are great for entertainment value. Guys being nice and respectful to one another may seem ideal, but a little hate can spice up the normally mundane to a must-see spectacle. Rooting against someone you despise is arguably just as satisfying and entertaining as rooting for someone you like.
The Tavares reunion storyline was enough to draw in neutral fans, but it was the fire and the passion from Islanders fans that created a playoff-type atmosphere and made for a scene that was hard to look away from. Undoubtedly, this will go down as one of the most memorable regular season games this year.
And don't feel too bad for Tavares. I'm sure he'll be just fine.
What's wrong: Rule discussions at the GM meetings
The annual NHL GM Meetings are going down in Florida this week. This is where the league's 31 general managers to convene and discuss potential rule changes for the future. It's always interesting to see what issues are raised and where the league is leaning on certain topics.
Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of bigger issues are being ignored in favor of much smaller items. Such as:
Corner board clocks: A new rule would mandate a game clock display be embedded in each of the four corners of every NHL rink. This was already executed effectively during outdoor games this year and it's sort of a no-brainer.
Mandatory helmets: A new rule would require players to wear helmets during warmups. In addition, players would have to leave the ice immediately if they lost their helmet during play. Again, kind of a no-brainer. It's a bummer to limit the exposure to glorious hockey flow, but limiting risk of head trauma is probably more important.
"ROW'' tiebreaker to "RW'' tiebreaker: This rule change would change the standings tiebreaker from ROW (regulation and overtime wins) to just RW (regulation wins), meaning that teams would get more credit when it comes to sealing victories before 3-on-3 overtime. Again, good stuff.
But here are some of the issues that aren't -- but most definitely should be -- in discussion:
Offside reviews: If you were hoping that the league would revise the way it approaches offside challenges...well, better luck next year. It seems the league doesn't hate those insufferable offside reviews as much as everyone else seems to, so we'll all have to continue putting up with frame-by-frame dissection of pixelated blue line camera footage to see if a player's back skate was an inch or two off the ice as he entered the attacking zone.
My stance is this: If you can't tell whether a player was offside in real time or in the first 10 seconds of a replay review, the entry didn't have enough of an impact on the result of the play to warrant a reversal. Just make the blue line a vertical plane so that a player is still onside if his back skate hovers over the blue paint. Also, put a 10-second statute of limitations on a zone entry violation. If the officials miss an offside call and the attacking team sets up shop with possession in the zone for more than 10 seconds before scoring, the illegal zone entry barely contributed to the end result and the goal should still count. It goes against the spirit of the rule.
Point structure: As it stands, the league has a 2-1-0 point structure for wins and losses. You win in regulation or overtime, you get two points in the standings. You lose in OT or shootout, you get one point. You lose in regulation, you get zero points. Under this structure, a win counts exactly the same in the standings regardless of whether you win in regulation or overtime, unless a tiebreaker is eventually needed.
What the league should be doing, however, is following a 3-2-1-0 point structure. Three points for winning in regulation, two points for winning in OT or shootout, one point for losing in overtime or shootout, and no points for a regulation loss. This provides added incentive to teams to seal wins in regulation, which not only makes sense but also should theoretically lead to more exciting finishes to games. With more on the line, teams are more apt to be aggressive in the final minutes of a third period.
The 2-1-0 format is structured for parity, but is it even a good representation of parity? Too many teams are allowed to hang around the playoff picture longer than they should because of the current point system. I'd argue teams should be rewarded for finishing games in regulation and, on the flip side, there should be some sort of punishment for not being able to seal a win before extra time, and that should always be reflected in the standings -- not just when it comes to tiebreakers.
Playoff seeding: The playoffs feature eight qualifiers from each of the league's two conferences. The top three teams from each division automatically get in, plus two wild cards from each conference.
The current playoff format aims to showcase divisional rivalries in the first few rounds. The division winners in each conference get first-round matchups against wild cards while every other series features the No 2 and No. 3 teams in a division going head-to-head. This guarantees that there are at least four divisional rivalries in the first round of the playoffs every year.
It's a good idea in theory, but it opens up the possibility of some seeding injustices. Just look at the way things are currently set to play out this year. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a top-five team in the league in terms of points in standings, but they play in such a top-heavy division that they may not even have home ice advantage during the first round of the playoffs thanks to being third in the Atlantic.
And, as we've seen in recent years, the current format often leads to the best and most intriguing matchups coming in the second round of the playoffs rather than the conference finals or Stanley Cup Final.
A lot of people want the league to simply go back to conference-based seeding that ranks teams 1-through-8 regardless of division (like the NBA currently does) and sets up the playoff pairings that way. But there are also a number of additional possibilities that might prove to be more effective and intriguing than the way the postseason is currently setup.
For example: One idea that's worth sinking your teeth into is this one from The Athletic's Sean McIndoe ("Down Goes Brown") which basically proposes conference-based seeding through two rounds, followed by a third round re-seeding that would essentially eliminate conference-based semifinals. In turn, this would open up the possibility of teams from the same conference meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. (He explains it better than I could and goes into details on the pros and cons, so give it a read.)
Again, it's good that the league is looking at some smaller rule changes that make sense from technical and safety standpoints, but it's frustrating that they're not even willing to have discussions on some of the bigger topics that have been a point of contention for at least a few years now.
Then again, the NHL seems to love to ignore some of this stuff until they're forced into a situation where it's no longer possible to ignore it. So I guess now we're stuck waiting for a wildly insignificant offside ruling to alter to outcome of a playoff series until we get some changes.
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